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Tinder's new feature will let users run background checks on their matches

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The popular dating app Tinder is giving users more access to information about the people they're swiping right on. A new feature will allow users to run background checks on their matches and find out things like past arrests and convictions for certain violent crimes, as well as sex offender registry status. This comes after reports of sexual assault and other crimes following connections made on Tinder.

Our single friends and those who love them were wondering how this will work and if it will really keep people safer, so we called Lisa Bonos to ask her. She writes about dating and relationships for The Washington Post, and she's with us now once again. Lisa Bonos, thanks so much for joining us once again.

LISA BONOS: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Can you tell us your initial thoughts when you first heard that criminal background checks can now be done on Tinder?

BONOS: Yeah. I thought, OK, this is just one more thing that singles are supposed to do to vet someone before they meet up. It's a lot of work that goes into swiping and matching and talking and finding a safe place to meet in a way that feels comfortable for both people. And now, OK, you can run a background check, but that background check might not tell you that somebody is dangerous because plenty of people that are sexual predators are not prosecuted or arrested for those crimes. So it could give users a false sense of safety, and it also puts the onus on the user to figure out if somebody is safe rather than the platform.

MARTIN: That's interesting. So the background checks provide results, quote, "relevant to the user's safety," unquote. But as you were just telling us, it doesn't show everything in a person's past. So what's considered relevant to the user's safety?

BONOS: Tinder has said that they're showing results relevant to a user's safety and that they're excluding drug possession, loitering or vagrancy charges. They were not super-specific about what crimes will show up. If somebody is on a sex offender registry, that should show up. They're looking for crimes of violence or sexual violence. And also, it's notable that they're only showing arrests and convictions for the United States. Things that happened outside of the States - that will not come up.

MARTIN: I mean, could this affect somebody who has committed a crime, has paid their debt to society? And, you know, is this feature fair to somebody like that, somebody who has been arrested for something, you know, years ago and they've become a different person?

BONOS: Right. I've been thinking a lot about that. Let's say somebody has been arrested for a crime they didn't commit. Should that follow them around on a dating app? Or if someone has done their time, is that information one of the first things that a stranger should know about them? Maybe they're safe now to interact with, or they would rather talk about that with someone one on one before seeing it just pop up on a dating app.

MARTIN: That's interesting. I want to dig into something you just said a minute ago. You said in a way you think this feature allows Tinder to escape blame for bad situations that may happen as a result of a match or meetup. What are your thoughts about this? Like, how much responsibility should be on the app as opposed to the user?

BONOS: Yeah. It's really hard to say. I mean, one of the main selling points of Tinder is that they have a lot of people on there, right? It is the place to go to meet all kinds of folks. And so for them, they want to capture as many people as possible on the app because that's what people go there for. If the barrier to entry is really high, then not as many people are going to want to sign up for it, and then they're not going to have the boisterous pool that they're promoting and that is what they're known for. So I spoke to a sociologist at the University of Michigan who was skeptical that Tinder's move was going to do anything substantive. She found it more symbolic and really felt like it was shifting the burden of figuring out who's safe and who's not onto the user rather than the platform.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, what are your thoughts about this idea in general? I mean, obviously they think they're meeting a customer need with this. And there have been situations just like with all these apps. With, like, ridesharing apps, things - bad stuff has happened to people using them. It's just - I don't know. What are your thoughts about this, whether this is going to be considered like a standard practice or - that people will expect using these apps? I mean, it really does remind you yet again that the whole business of meeting people, you know, is hard, you know? And getting to know somebody is hard.

BONOS: It is. I mean, you know, a lot of the other safety tips that are recommended, like getting on a video call with somebody just to see if they're real and if they are where they say they are, or Tinder also said that they suggest that people send real-time selfies to each other, not a picture that you have in your selfie roll from your last vacation, but, like, could you show me a picture of yourself holding a fork so you know that they didn't take it six months ago? There are all sorts of things that we do to try to figure out is this person who they say they are. And I don't know if the background checks will catch on or not, but they do highlight the fact that there's a lot of anxiety and uncertainty around this topic.

MARTIN: That was Lisa Bonos for The Washington Post talking to us about the newest feature on Tinder - criminal background checks. Lisa Bonos, thanks so much for talking with us once again.

BONOS: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.